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bastard feudalism


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The term bastard feudalism, seemingly invented in 1885, has been adopted as a label to distinguish a social structure different from its predecessor in the post‐Conquest period. The essence of the feudal system introduced by William I was that tenants of manors had obligations to their lords. With bastard feudalism the bond between a man and his lord was not tenurial but financial, not hereditary but personal; it was often made by a written contract, by which a retainer undertook to attend his lord whenever required, suitably armed and equipped. The proliferation of this pattern of relationships coincided with the Hundred Years War. Edward III and his successors raised their armies by indentures with lords and other captains who undertook to provide certain numbers of mounted men and archers. All were to be paid wages of war.

The political hazards of this dependency could be reduced by good kingship. Public order was assisted if lords kept their retainers in order. It was otherwise when lords competed for regional dominance, as did the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, and the Nevilles and Percies, in a period of weak monarchy. In 1384 the parliamentary Commons complained that wrongdoers expected to escape retribution through the patronage of the lords whose liveries of cloth or badges they wore. Eventually bastard feudalism was curbed, though not abolished, by Henry VII's conciliar jurisdiction and his statute of 1504, which prohibited retaining without royal licence.

Subjects: British History.


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